Monday, September 12, 2011

Girl Power! -- Writer's Poke #315





Part of me just wants to say “Girl Power!” but another part of me wants to say, “Why are we being asked to condone the promotion of junk food for the brain?”


In Sady Doyle’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fangs: The Unwarranted Backlash Against Fans of the World’s Most Popular Vampire-Romance,” focus for one moment on the key word in the subtitle: “unwarranted.”

For something that is “unwarranted,” Doyle certainly does spend quite a bit of time showing why the backlash may be warranted. In truth, she cannot defend the Twilight series. All she can do is defend the girls that like the series. She is probably right that it’s not fair to attack the fans themselves, but defenders of culture shouldn’t have to do that. Tearing down the books is easy enough to do, and the books are poorly written. Simple. And Doyle admits as much.

At the same time, she claims “they speak to a legitimate need.” That may be true, but what exactly is this “legitimate need,” and should we simply accept Twilight because it fills a void? Why not fill the void with something more nutritious? After all, Twinkies might satisfy one’s hunger, but no one would suggest that girls should live solely on Twinkies. But if Doyle’s statistics are correct, it does seem to be the case that the only books girls have been reading for the past few years is the Twilight series. In other words, they’ve been reading the literary equivalent of eating junk food. And we think this isn’t negatively affecting their brains? Do we really want to encourage the exclusive eating of brain junk food?

Doyle notes that Harry Potter has received criticism from some literary snobs, but Potter managed to escape “the girly ghetto.” Boys and girls, as well as adults, like Potter. Why? Is it as simple as suggesting J.K. Rowling’s “male readership” gave her work the endorsement of “universality”? I don’t think it’s that simply. The Potter series is just a better read.

In Doyle’s conclusion, she suggests that “girls are powerful consumers” and that we must therefore “admit that they have the ability to shape the culture.” I’m not sure who Doyle thinks is denying that girls have the economic ability to shape at least the book culture. Publishers have undoubtedly taken notice of the fact that Twilight sells. But left to their own devices, girls might spend all of their food allowance on Twinkies and Taco Bell. Rather than just “admit it,” don’t we have an obligation to help “shape” the culture we live in? While I hate to be a gatekeeper of culture, in this instance, I feel like this is my role. If Twilight is giving girls something that they “need,” then I suggest it is our duty feed that need, but it is also our duty to help them to develop a better taste in literature.

Think of some of today’s most controversial cultural issues. What role do (or should) you play in helping shape American culture?

“The problem is when that fun stuff becomes the habit. And I think that's what's happened in our culture. Fast food has become the everyday meal.” – Michelle Obama



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